The Frenchman Pierre Augustin Guys (1721-1799) was a merchant as well as a member of the Academy of Letters and Sciences of Marseilles. He started his travels to continental Greece and the islands in 1748, later settling in Constantinople, from where he continued his journeys to Greek territories. His chronicle was published for the first time in 1771, without illustrations. After the Orlov Revolt (1769-70), a newfound interest in modern Hellenism began to emerge, resting on the belief that the modern Greeks are living monuments of the splendid civilization that flourished in the same lands during Antiquity. Guys’ work, with its nostalgic reveries on the Classical era but also the author’s long experience of Greece and the Greeks, was instrumental in inculcating this view. His endeavour to come closer to the modern Greeks led him to reveal the underground current of a historical continuity that runs through all social manifestations of their daily life. Guys spent the last years of his life on Zacynthos, where he died.
The third edition of Guys’ work is the first one to include illustrations. The first letter in the epistolary text was written in Constantinople in January 1730. The chronicle also includes a diary of Guys’ journey from Constantinople to Sofia in 1766, and of another journey from Bursa to Smyrna, Thessalonica, Nauplion, Athens and Syros.
Guys was interested in the various ethnicities in the Ottoman Empire, such as Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Europeans. He analyses in depth aspects of Greek everyday life and material culture (houses, furniture, embroidery), comparing this data to the information provided by ancient Greek and Roman authors, such as Plutarch and Vitruvius. He expands too on the women's world, discussing subjects such as the personal toilet, costumes, hairstyles, jewellery, etc., again citing Homer, Pausanias and other ancient authors. The character of the Greeks, their songs (again with references to Demosthenes, Euripides and Theophrastus) as well as birth, death, marriage, religious traditions, superstitions, vernacular architecture and folk poetry, proverbs, dances and the whole nexus of everyday life become to Guys a means of historical investigation and elements of a historical identity. In spite of exaggerations and the absence of scientific documentation, the work was warmly received by French scholars. Guys’ literary style and the sense of precision made his work a “best-seller”.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou